The first New York City production of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell’s hilarious meta-musical [title of show] since its Broadway run in 2008 is now at the Secret Theatre through April 14.
Some of the show’s references are dated, but it actually takes up that very issue as it chronicles a writing duo’s struggles to create an original musical with Broadway ambitions. With just four chairs and a keyboard director Scott Guthrie leads a full-tilt cast of five (counting onstage keyboardist/musical director Christopher Lengerich) crisply through the sharp and funny series of twists and turns that make this epitome of self-referential shows shine.
The story, the punchy dialogue, even the characters themselves are specific to the world of New York City theater. Yet the show’s New England premiere in 2010 showed me that wider audiences could appreciate [title of show]. The Secret Theatre’s version proves that time displacement can’t kill it either.
For one thing, most of the in-jokes reference Broadway musicals and the like, and people who really follow Broadway do follow Broadway through time. More important, the production brings the story brightly alive. The cast snappily executes the funny choreography (uncredited, presumably Guthrie’s). Choreography also feels like the right word for the tight presentation of the songs and even much of the dialogue.
Ironically, the show’s one soggy section comes as composer Jeff (Jason Moody) and writer Hunter (Jeffrey Scott Stevens) experience some initial success for their offbeat little musical. I briefly lost interest when everything seemed to be coming up roses. Fortunately the show quickly picks up steam again as artistic and aspirational differences mushroom into something like real drama.
It feels so painfully real when months of nothing follow the excitement of the team’s successful Off-Broadway run. Jeff is back coding websites, Hunter borrowing rent money from brassy but insecure Susan (Jennifer Swiderski). Heidi (Chelsea Barker) remains coolly professional but inconclusively committed to the show – until the threat of a famous replacement arises. And the boys’ bickering threatens to become a serious rift as the pressure mounts during a Broadway rewrite.
What happens in the end? Not important. This show is about process. In a sense, it is process. But above all, it’s a really good time. The music is sophisticated and fun, the performances prime. Catch it at [the Secret Theatre] through April 14.